March gardening—it’s not too early!
Yes, there are a lot of things we can be doing to prepare for spring gardening, even though there’s still a ton of snow out there in many areas. In this Green Divas in the Garden podcast segment, I shares some great ways to start gardening now. Listen up then read on for more!
March 20th is the first day of spring and we’re all excited to get back into our gardens—but we don’t have to wait. Here’s my list of March gardening to-do’s to help get you started …
Build the soil
Don’t dig that wet soil! Working with wet soil compacts it and destroys the structure plants need to grow.
Is it dry enough? Squeeze a handful of soil into a ball and if it will crumble, it is. Try to avoid walking on your garden soil and your lawn when they are wet. If you have to, create a walkway with large old pieces of plywood to distribute your weight over a larger space.
Caring for your soil is crucial for organic gardening. High quality soil leads to healthy, vigorous plants that are less likely to succumb to insects and diseases. Here are some tips for good soil:
~ Test for plant nutrients and pH (very easy—about $20)
~ Amend the soil with the right amounts of natural fertilizers (your soil test results will explain what to do)
~ Add organic matter including compost (and cover crops for food gardens)
~ Work the soil properly for aeration and amendments
~ Keep beds clean and free from damaged or diseased plant material that can harbor disease and insects
In the Chicago area March is usually still a good time to do pruning. If we’re having a warm spring, it may be inadvisable. If in doubt, check with the Morton Arboretum to see if insects are active and pruning is discouraged.
Prune branches that broke during the winter, branches that rub against each other (creating areas for disease and insects to enter), and get rid of suckers and old canes of blackberry and raspberries. Cut yellow and red stem dogwoods back so the new growth will give good color for next year’s winter garden.
Cut the tops off all the ornamental grasses and any other perennials you left standing for winter interest. Clean all the flower and vegetable garden beds thoroughly, removing old leaves and fruit to rid your garden of overwintering diseases and insects. Rake out groundcovers, mow back brown growth which will soon be replaced with fresh green leaves. Pull the mulch away from perennials and roses, and prune roses back to the green healthy growth.
Start seeds and plant
Traditionally we start seeds outdoors (if the soil is workable) for peas on St. Patrick’s Day is March 17. You could also sow seeds outdoors for other cool season crops like carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach and green onions. These traditions are based on historical experience that usually the snow was melted, the ground was starting to dry up and the soil temperatures were above the minimums needed for the seeds to germinate.
Even without global warming, there are more reliable ways to calculate the optimum days for planting. Buy a soil thermometer and check soil temperature! Seeds will germinate within a range of specific air and soil temperatures. If you plant seeds before that time they will sit in the soil and may rot.
Pansies are a great annual to put in containers now. They can take a little snow and if it gets too cold you can cover them at night. They look nice covering the ground around the daffodils that should be starting to send their green shoots up. Put a few containers by the doors you use most frequently just to remember that brighter colored-times are coming!
We’re all enthusiastic about getting back in the garden and March is a the Great Beginning with the first day of spring. It’s also time to finish winter tasks like pruning and to clean up your property in preparation for the upcoming floral abundance of flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs and flowers. And as long as the soil is ready, it’s even time to start seeds for this year’s gardens and do some planting!
And here’s the most recent episode of The Green Divas Radio Show…